Summertime at the beach practically requires a rum drink, but you needn't reach for the same big brand over and over. Essentially distilled sugar (you can read more on the intricacies and history of rum in Michael Dietsch's guide to rum), this potent and varied liquor can be one the of best ways to beat the heat and sobriety all at once. And although pirate-infested, sun-drenched Caribbean shores are the first thing we think of when we hear rum, there's actually a long-lost tradition of rum distilling right on our own native soil. Remember the triangle trade? Mrs. McClean's sixth grade history class? Bueller?
Anyway, the American rum industry is making a comeback, with craft distillers in the forefront. And these three white rums are definitely worth lugging to the beach.
Railean White Rum
The only one of our rums with Caribbean coordinates, Railean Distillery hails from the gulf coast town of San Leon, Texas. Boasting oodles of made-in-the-USA pride and a cowboy hat wearing owner in Kelly Railean, this small distillery aims to lead the charge of restoring the American rum industry to its former glory. Their flagship offering is an unaged white rum distilled from molasses. It's a refreshing alternative to the mass-produced imported that we got sick drinking in high school, handcrafted in small batches and unaltered by artificial flavorings.
Clear and just a touch oily in the glass, creamy banana and straw scents greet the nose. Medium bodied and not overly flavorful, there's coconut and just a hint of caramel that suggests the spirit's molasses origin. Not really a sipping spirit, this rum truly shines as a mixer. The banana and coconut notes complement traditional rum drinks, while it lacks the metallic aftertaste that has soured us on Bacardi and Cokes...Texas Libre, anyone?
Bull Run Pacific Rum
Far from Caribbean plantations and pirate ship wrecks, Portland, Oregon's Bull Run Distilling Company is the brainchild of Lee Medoff and Patrick Bernards. With a shared commitment to quality and innovation—they designed their locally-built pot stills themselves—they've been distilling since 2010. Their newly released Pacific Rum is double-distilled from fermented organic cane juice before getting aged for at least four weeks in ex-bourbon barrels. It's distinctly different from its molasses-based relatives.
Pouring a very light straw color, the Pacific Rum smells kind of like maotai, sweetly grainy and sorghum-esque, but with banana bread dancing in the background. It's luxuriously soft and oily on the palate with a hint of sugar sweetness, definite oak, and cacao nibs. Overall, it's a wonderfully balanced white rum experience, more than worthy of a sipping snifter for those in the mood. And it's particularly lovely in a pure daiquiri where the subtleties of the spirit can shine through.
Ballast Point Three Sheets Rum
You may already know Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits for their many excellent microbrews (and if you don't, meet their head brewer for the best introduction), but as their name clearly indicates, they have an active distilling program as well. Their Three Sheets Rum is distilled from fermented organic cane sugar in a custom hybrid pot/column still.
This crystal clear spirit smells of banana but with a crisp grassy/straw twist. Medium-bodied and distinctly sweet, pear, coconut, and mango come out upon sipping. It's also hot, but in a tingly I'm-happy-sweating-in-the-sun kind of way. This is my favorite of the three to use in a full-flavored rum cocktail, where the fruity notes will give your drink that extra special something.
Have you tried any new American rums lately? Which is your favorite?
Samples provided for review consideration.
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.